US making elaborate efforts to monitor Pakistan polls

February 16th, 2008 - 5:40 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf

Washington, Feb 16 (IANS) The US has high stakes in Pakistan’s general election, being held Monday, and is making elaborate efforts to monitor the exercise but is also prepared for irregularities, the State Department has said. Besides a high-powered Congressional team going to Pakistan as observers, the Bush administration will have US embassy employees fanning out to various locations in the country to see how free and fair for the purpose, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said at a briefing Friday.

He expressed confidence that although relatively small in number, the Americans in the observation mission would be able to see what is taking place on the ground.

The US government has also provided quite a bit of funding for the training of roughly 20,000 Pakistani election observers.

“We were working with the government of Pakistan to ensure that those observers would have access to polling places and be able to do their jobs,” McCormack said.

“The international system has a number of efforts underway as well,” he added.

McCormack said people should be able to assemble peacefully and “there should be a set of procedures surrounding election day, (so) the Pakistani people can have confidence that their ballot will, in fact, be faithfully reflected as part of the results of the election”.

But the State Department is reconciled to a less than ideal poll process.

“There have been, in the past, irregularities within the Pakistani electoral process. One would hope that they can improve upon past performance in a sort of subtly increasing trend line,” the spokesperson said when asked about the alleged recording of the Pakistani attorney general predicting that the elections would be rigged.

The US stakes riding on the election results are the future of ally President Pervez Musharraf and the fate of its war on terror. But McCormack refused to prejudge the outcome of the election.

“We all will look for the election to produce a government in which the Pakistani people can have confidence,” is all he said.

McCormack also refused to elaborate on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s earlier statement that she hoped that moderate voices would be represented in the new government.

“I don’t want to give the perception that we are trying to influence the composition of the future Pakistani government beyond encouraging moderate forces within the Pakistani political system to bond together, work together to help govern that country and put it back on the pathway to democratic rule,” he said.

The Congressional observer team comprises Senator Joseph Biden, head of the powerful Senate foreign relations committee, Senator John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, and Republican Chuck Hagel.

Biden has forecast riots throughout Pakistan if the elections were found to be “patently rigged”.

Biden, who has been mentioned as a possible secretary of state if a Democrat captures the White House in the November 2008 election, even told reporters that if the elections were unfair, “I would move to cut off aid to Pakistan, military aid”.

Said Kerry: “I hope the government understands that merely clinging to power meets nobody’s objectives because we wind up playing into the hands of radical instability not only of the country but the region.”

For its part, Pakistan’s embassy in Washington is busy with a public relations exercise to allay concerns that the elections will not be fair.

“We welcome observers and journalists from across the world to witness this historic process,” said Ambassador Mahmud Ali Durrani at a press conference last week.

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